'This intriguing and immersive novel is a real-page turner with plenty of romance and a dark mystery at its heart' Rachel Hore, Sunday Times bestselling author of A Beautiful Spy She doesn’t know if she can trust him. But she’s determined to save him . . . Nebraska, 1943 : Jenni Fields 's husband Danny was killed in action two months ago. Now pregnant with another man's child, Jenni is determined to keep her secret from the small community of Meadow Hills. Max Koenig fled Germany in 1938, escaping the Nazis and leaving behind a dark secret of his own. Employed to translate a historic German-language diary, Max moves to Meadow Hills, but the overly patriotic community isn’t happy to have a German in their midst. When the diary goes missing, the whole town thinks Max is the thief. And when local businesses and landmarks start being vandalized with German graffiti, the residents naturally point the finger his way. Jenni is the only one who believes Max is innocent. Clearly, the diary holds information someone in the town would rather keep quiet. What happened in Meadow Hills all those years ago? And will Jenni be able to prove Max’s innocence before it’s too late? A gripping and emotional WWII mystery with a love story at its heart, The Stranger From Berlin is perfect for fans of Suzanne Goldring and Angela Petch. 'Mellissa hooks her reader in from the very first page with a compelling narrative… Two unlikely characters connect, both harboring their own dark secret that highlights the prejudice of that time that builds to a gripping and heart-wrenching conclusion' Suzanne Kelman, author of Under a Sky on Fire 'I love historical fiction that takes a period we think we know, and finds an unexplored element - this is an intriguing glimpse into smalltown America in WWII, wrapped up in a thoroughly gripping mystery' Frances Quinn, author of The Smallest Man 'A searing look at the toll which divisiveness, shame, and fear can take on one man, one town, and even one nation' James R. Benn, author of Road of Bones and other Billy Boyle mysteries? '[A] well-researched and assured debut novel … both a tender love story and a thoughtful examination of national and individual guilt, shame, responsibility, and healing' Susan Elia MacNeal, author of the New York Times -bestselling Maggie Hope novels 'A spellbinding story about a town secret that might be revealed due to the relentless undertow of World War II… This is historical fiction at its finest' Patrick Hicks , author of In the Shadow of Dora
Release date: August 10, 2021
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Print pages: 288
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Stranger From Berlin
CHAPTER ONEDecember 24, 1943Lincoln, Nebraska
The call announcing Max Koenig’s fate finally came at six o’clock. He had spent the afternoon staring at the snow falling outside his apartment window and alternating between whisky and Lucky Strikes in a feeble attempt to calm his shattered nerves. Even so, the phone’s shrill ring nearly pushed him over the edge.
‘I’m sorry for the delay, Professor Koenig.’ The chair of the university’s history department, Dr Watkins, sounded brisk but genuine. ‘The committee has made its decision. We have determined that the accusations brought against you are false and malicious. The FBI has also found no evidence against you.’
Max’s grip on the receiver relaxed. It was all right then. ‘I am glad to hear it.’
‘However,’ Watkins continued, ‘we feel that in these times, we cannot afford to have schisms within our department between colleagues. It reflects poorly on us all when the integrity of one of our professors is in question, especially on the subject of Nazism.’
Panic began to edge its way around Max’s ribs. ‘But I’ve been in America for over five years. I am not a Nazi.’
‘Yes, we know that,’ Watkins said patiently, ‘but you must admit, the circumstances surrounding your time at the university in Berlin are somewhat… questionable. The fact that you stayed on as long as you did when so many in academia were forced from their jobs or quit in protest is telling. It doesn’t exactly endear you to your Jewish colleagues.’
What did Watkins know of Max’s life in Berlin, of what it was like to try to survive in the midst of that madness? And why must every action a person took be under scrutiny, no matter if it happened last week or five years ago?
‘I am not a Nazi sympathizer, nor have I ever been.’ His voice trembled and he despised himself for it because part of that statement wasn’t exactly true. ‘I have nothing against my colleagues, Jewish or otherwise. Nothing at all. I respect them a great deal. We’ve worked together well in the past.’
Until a professor named Elijah Goldberg had arrived in Lincoln, that is, and started questioning Max, digging and scraping until the old wound became raw and bleeding. And still the man had not stopped harping.
‘Why did you stay? Did you denounce your colleagues? Did you throw them to the wolves? Did the Abwehr pay you to come here and spy on us?’
‘Professor Goldberg suffers from episodes of paranoia. He overstepped his bounds this time.’
‘Overstepped his bounds?’ Max repeated incredulously. ‘He accused me of being a spy.’
‘A most unfortunate incident, but you’ll allow, I’m sure, that Goldberg’s time in a German concentration camp affected him deeply. We cannot begin to comprehend what he went through.’ Watkins cleared his throat and assumed a more authoritative tone. ‘But it still doesn’t change the fact that we cannot have a culture of learning with something like this hanging over our heads. It’s a minor miracle we managed to contain this to our department. God forbid the student body should catch wind of it. Do you know what a scandal it would cause? It would be the trials all over again.’
Max suppressed a groan. How many times had he been warned about those damnable trials? It seemed unbelievable that professors at UNL had been forced to prove their loyalty to America during the First World War and, worse, that some lost their job because of it. Surely that kind of thinking belonged in fascist Germany and not the United States.
‘But I’ve done nothing,’ he said, trying to keep hysteria out of his voice. ‘No one but Goldberg has accused me of disloyalty. None of my students have complained.’
‘Be that as it may, it doesn’t change anything. We are at war, and in that climate, we must tread carefully for the good of the university. Enrolment is low as it is. We cannot afford any kind of negative publicity.’ He sighed and Max could almost feel the other man’s regret. ‘I’m sorry, Max, but our decision is final. Your employment with us is hereby terminated. We will announce that you went on sabbatical and then, in a few months’ time, no one will be the wiser.’
Max didn’t even say goodbye. He slowly replaced the phone in its cradle and watched the blowing snow blur the green and red Christmas lights on the houses below. Fired on Christmas Eve. How incredibly un-American. Wasn’t this the season of eternal hope and joy? He glanced at a Christmas card sitting on the wireless, a frothy white thing with smiling, rosy-cheeked men and women singing carols in front of a decorated evergreen, Wishing You Tidings of Great Joy written in embossed gold letters underneath.
The images were meant to inspire feelings of warmth, family and home, but it did the exact opposite. It only reminded him of everything he’d lost. And now he could add his job to the ever-growing list.
He sank into the old, ratty couch next to Katya, his sleeping golden retriever, and absently began petting her fur, too numb to even reach for the bottle of whisky on the coffee table. Goldberg had made insane accusations. But the Jew had come uncomfortably close to the truth. At one point, Max had almost given in to paranoia himself, fearing that Goldberg was the spy, and that he knew all about Max’s activities in Berlin.
But that was such nonsense… wasn’t it? He wasn’t so sure anymore. One thing he did know: his remorse over what he’d done in Berlin had only grown stronger. He’d been in America five years now, and the guilt continued to burrow a hole in him, like an insidious worm.
Downstairs, his neighbours were starting their Christmas Eve celebrations, and the raucous sound of jingly carols and laughter drifted through the floorboards. He couldn’t stand to listen to it, to hear family and friends enjoying the season, when his world had just collapsed.
He went into the kitchen and put on a kettle for some tea, his gaze drawn to the knife in the sink. Its jagged edges taunted him.
It might be easy, so very easy, to use those silver teeth and open his wrists. He could just stand here, let the blood flow over the white porcelain and into the drain. End it. End it all.
He picked up the knife, stared at the breadcrumbs still stuck to the blade. A few quick strokes…
Beside him, Katya growled. He looked at the dog in astonishment. Mein Gott im Himmel. What was he thinking? The knife clattered into the sink and Max stumbled over to a kitchen chair.
Infected by a brief bout of madness. That had to be it. There could be no other explanation for such thoughts. He fumbled a cigarette into his mouth and struck a match, but he could barely hold his hands still long enough to light the cigarette. Finally, the end burned orange and he took a hard draw, inhaling deeply. Was he really so far gone?
The shrill jangle of the phone startled him so badly that he jumped to his feet and knocked over the chair. His heart quaked and Katya’s wet nose in his palm only made it worse.
The phone rang again and he hurried to answer it, wondering for the second time today if a phone call could be the cause of death by heart attack. He yanked the receiver to his ear and croaked out a spattering of German.
‘Max! Are you all right?’
It was Bruce. Max switched to English. ‘Hello, Bruce. Yes, I – I’m fine.’
‘You don’t sound it.’
Bruce muttered on the other end, then: ‘I heard about the committee’s decision. I’m sorry, Max.’
‘It’s not your fault.’
‘No, but I feel a certain responsibility to you. After all, I’m the one who convinced you to come to Lincoln in the first place.’
‘I wouldn’t have come if I didn’t want to.’
But that wasn’t entirely true. He’d had two choices: leave Berlin or die.
‘Let me guess,’ Bruce continued. ‘Watkins brought up the Loyalty Trials again.’
Bruce swore. ‘Doesn’t he realize the difference here? Good God, you left your family, your career, your whole life because of the Nazis. And he has the audacity to listen to some crackpot question your loyalty to this country?’
‘Goldberg has been through a lot.’
‘You’re going to defend that louse? Look, I don’t begrudge the guy his suffering, but he’s got a helluva nerve to take it out on you just because you didn’t leave when he thought you should have. He doesn’t know your story.’
Neither did Bruce, Max thought. Not all of it.
His silence must have worried Bruce because his friend’s next words were rushed. ‘Say, I think I can help you out.’
‘I can’t take money from you.’
‘It’s not money. It’s a job.’
Max tensed. Bruce could be about to offer him anything. He might be a professor at the university, but he was invested in nearly every big business in town.
‘Do I dare ask what kind of job this is?’
‘Can you afford to be picky?’
Max shuddered, thinking of the knife in the sink.
‘I got a call this week from Mrs Celia Draper. She’s the director of a museum in Meadow Hills, a little town east of here. Have you heard of a mystery novelist named Tallulah Stanwick?’
‘I’m afraid I don’t read mysteries.’
‘I don’t either, but Betty says Stanwick is kind of like America’s Agatha Christie. Anyway, this Mrs Stanwick lived in Meadow Hills, and after she passed away last year, they opened up a museum about her. The curator found Mrs Stanwick’s diary.’
Max rubbed his forehead, wishing Bruce would get to the point. ‘I’m not a literature professor.’
‘You don’t have to be. The diary is in German, and they’d like it translated. I was going to give the opportunity to one of the graduate students, but then I heard about the committee’s decision.’
That dark, twisted thing inside of him bit out, ‘So you’re giving me this “opportunity” out of pity?’
There was a moment of stunned silence. Then Bruce growled, ‘Why you ungrateful son of a bitch. What the hell is wrong with you?’
Max flinched and shook out another cigarette from his pack. He was acting like a dummkopf to one of the only friends he had.
‘I’m sorry. It’s been a long day. But I have no right to take it out on you.’
‘Damn right you don’t,’ Bruce huffed. ‘So are you interested or not?’
He wasn’t interested. At all. All he wanted to do was drink the rest of the whisky in one bottle, open up another one, and then fall into a drunken sleep until the war was over or he didn’t wake up.
But then Katya sat on her haunches in front of him and put her paw on his knee. Her dark brown eyes stared up at him and he knew he couldn’t give up. Once again, this dog was saving him from himself.
‘Ja, of course,’ he said, pulling smoke into his lungs. ‘Are they willing to pay?’
‘Yes, though it’s not much. But even so, they’re offering you the guest cottage on the grounds. That way if you have any questions, you’ll be right there.’
Weary resignation settled into his bones. It would do for the short term, give him time to plan. He’d have to look for other teaching positions, maybe in Chicago or Kansas City, even though the mere thought of picking up, moving again, and dealing with his visa paperwork made him want to curl into a tight ball.
‘Danke, Bruce. I’ll do it.’
‘Good man. I’ll call you later when I get all the details confirmed.’ He paused. ‘Just one thing though.’
Uh oh. Bruce had a terrible habit of roping you into doing something and then revealing what was usually a critical piece of information.
Max steeled himself. ‘What is it?’
‘Betty dragged me down to Meadow Hills once to see where Mrs Stanwick lived. The town is kind of screwy.’
‘Screwy? What does this mean?’
‘Verrück. You know, crazy. The sign outside of town says that it’s the most patriotic town in Nebraska. Place has lots of flags, Uncle Sam, that sort of thing.’
The news punched Max in the stomach. ‘Scheiße! What are they going to think of me, then?’
‘Aw, you worry too much.’
‘And you don’t think what happened at the university gives me a reason to worry?’
‘No, I don’t. For one, you won’t have some idiot accusing you of being a Nazi spy, for heaven’s sake. Two, you won’t have to worry about some bureaucrat concerned about his department’s reputation. So relax.’
But now the whole idea just sounded insanely ridiculous. Here, in the city, he’d been able to blend in, keep a low profile. There was no chance of that happening in a small town.
‘Say, you still coming over for Christmas dinner tomorrow?’ Bruce asked, apparently considering the subject closed. ‘Betty will be awfully sore if you don’t.’
Max sighed. ‘I’ll be there.’
‘Good. Bring Katya with you. I’ll give her the drumstick.’
After he hung up the phone, Max pressed his face against the window, letting the cold seep into his skin until it burned.
Foolish boy, Ilsa whispered in his mind. See what you’ve done? If only you’d stayed with me like you promised, none of this would have happened…
December 25, 1943Meadow Hills, Nebraska
It was the ultimate irony to realize on the day of Jesus’s birth that she was pregnant with a child conceived in sin.
Twice now, while Marty opened his presents underneath the red and green glow of the Christmas-tree lights, she’d had to run to the bathroom and retch into the toilet. She couldn’t deny it any longer, though she’d certainly done her best to ignore the signs.
Idiot. How could she have been so stupid?
‘Mom? Are you okay?’ Marty asked when she stumbled back into the room, hands clammy, head pounding. She swallowed past the nausea and forced a smile.
‘Just swell. It must have been Grandma’s fruit cake we had last night.’ She reached down and tickled his tummy, though the movement cost her dearly. ‘You know how bad it tastes!’
Marty giggled and made a face. ‘Really bad! I took one bite ‘cause she made me. But it tasted like rotten apples.’
That only made Jenni’s stomach flip flop more and she sank onto the couch and swallowed several times. Marty didn’t notice, thank goodness, too fixated on oohing and ahhing over the toy B-17 bomber she’d given him.
‘Is this like Dad’s plane?’ he asked, running his fingers along the sleek lines.
‘Yes,’ she whispered. Except that plane was gone now, just like Danny. The telegram had come a month ago. She’d nearly fainted when she read those words: killed in action. So final.
‘Maybe I should be a pilot like Dad.’ Marty flew the plane around his head, making soft zooming noises, his eyes bright. ‘Can I, Mom?’
She should say no, dissuade him from even thinking of doing such a thing. He was barely eight years old. But she knew how such discouragement stung a child. She wouldn’t do it to him.
‘You can be whatever you want when you grow up.’ Her voice was hoarse, and Marty, always so attuned to her moods, especially in the last month, abandoned his plane and knelt in front of her chair, snaking his arms around her waist.
‘It’ll be all right, Mom,’ he whispered, burying his head in her stomach. ‘I’ll take care of you. Promise.’
She stroked his brown curls, so much like Danny’s, and the lights on the tree cast a bittersweet glow on the gold star flag hanging in the window. Danny may be gone, but she’d never let her son forget his father.
Later, after Marty fell asleep on the couch, his plane tucked under his arm, Jenni picked up the phone and gave the operator a number in New Orleans, a number she’d never wanted to call. But the tiny life growing inside her made that a moot point. She was taking a chance, calling him on Christmas Day, but waiting until tomorrow wasn’t an option.
When he answered, she noted how that deep Cajun drawl didn’t make her pulse race anymore. Instead, it sounded contrived, false.
‘Rafe, it’s Jenni.’
A hasty, indrawn breath. ‘Oh, hello, Mrs Fields. Merry Christmas.’
She flinched, hating how he used her married name after what they’d done together. It was so cold.
‘Merry Christmas to you.’ A pause. She could hang up the phone, not even let him know. ‘Rafe, do you have a moment to talk?’
She could hear laughter in the background, Bing Crosby’s ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman’ playing on the radio. A female voice called Rafe’s name and asked him to hurry so they could open presents.
‘I really don’t have time. I’m sorry.’
It wasn’t in her to hold back and hee-haw around. ‘I’m pregnant. It’s yours.’
Shocked silence. She’d spooked him good and on today of all days, but he was part of this too.
‘You can’t be serious!’ he hissed.
‘You have to marry me, Rafe.’ She didn’t want to marry him, but Danny hadn’t been home in two years; it didn’t take a mathematician to realize he wasn’t the father.
Another frantic pause, another female voice pleading with him to hurry. ‘I can’t,’ Rafe whispered. ‘I’m already married. Last night, on Christmas Eve.’
There was a rush of relief soon replaced by raging panic. ‘What am I supposed to do?’
‘Look, I’ll send you some money. You can go somewhere and get rid of it.’
Fury filled her veins and she cradled her still-flat stomach. ‘Never.’
‘You have to,’ he insisted. ‘I won’t jeopardize my career because you want to keep the bastard.’
‘You slimy heel.’
She slammed the phone down. Marty stirred on the couch, but kept sleeping.
Jenni slid to the floor and buried her head in her arms.
Dear God, what am I going to do?
The letter had come on a Monday, two days after New Year’s, 1944. When Jenni had seen the return address, some fancy street name in New Orleans, her heart had lurched. Maybe Rafe had changed his mind and decided he’d take care of her and the baby after all. But no. Not that louse. His words were short and to the point.
I will not be responsible. Get rid of it.
He’d enclosed a cheque for one hundred dollars, an obscene amount. Blood money. She’d promptly torn it up and mailed it back to him, then started a new short story, a scathing tale about a morally corrupt man and the havoc he caused in the lives he touched. She’d finished the rough draft in an hour, her fingers moving so quickly on the typewriter that she didn’t even notice the clock chime.
Usually she found writing cathartic, but it had been three days since she’d received the letter, and still the anger over Rafe’s incredible callousness burned deep. The holidays were over now though, and it was time to go back to work. That, at least, would offer a respite from dwelling on him and her stupid mistake.
Though she couldn’t call the life growing inside of her a mistake. She just couldn’t.
Jenni wound her scarf around her neck and pulled on her wool coat and gloves, actually glad to step out into the frigid January morning. Overcast skies and a biting wind made her hurry down the pavement, sidestepping sheets of black ice. A fresh coating of snow blanketed the ground and, yes, it looked pretty, but enough of the white stuff already, for heaven’s sake. She gazed longingly at the bare tree limbs, wishing for tiny green buds and orange-breasted robins singing outside her front window. Spring couldn’t come soon enough.
The three-block walk from her simple bungalow to the Tallulah Stanwick House took only five minutes, and she scurried up the back steps of the museum, eager for heat. Once inside, she sighed in relief and then inhaled the scent of old wood, pine-scented floors and sweet rose blossoms. Tallulah Stanwick had loved roses, and even though it was the middle of winter, the greenhouse on the south side of the house ensured they had fresh blooms all year long in vibrant shades of pink, red, white and even peach.
Jenni hung her coat, hat and scarf on the hook in the hallway, then slipped her overshoes off. Dizziness hit her and she gripped her coat, leaning into the soft wool as her head swam. Drat! Why couldn’t she be one of those women who sailed through their pregnancies, glowing with joy instead of feeling so wretched and miserable? But at least those with legitimate pregnancies could find commiseration with others. She had to keep hers a secret for as long as possible.
She heard Celia’s footsteps running down the hall, but she couldn’t open her eyes, not yet, not when the world still spun.
‘Are you all right?’
Finally, the dizziness passed. She gave Celia a wan smile. ‘Yes, now I am.’
Celia Draper, her employer and best friend, didn’t look convinced and promptly marched her into the kitchen for a cup of tea and dessert. Jenni hadn’t had any nausea the past few days, so the warm, cinnamon-flavoured coffee cake tasted good. At least she didn’t have to pretend around Celia. The day after Christmas, Jenni had invited Celia over for coffee and spilled her dirty little secret. Celia had pulled her into a hug and told her not to worry, and then threatened to drive down to New Orleans and castrate Rafe. ‘That louse deserves it,’ Celia had said. On this, the two women agreed.
‘Have you been getting these dizzy spells often?’ Celia asked later while they washed dishes.
Jenni shook her head. ‘Mostly in the morning or if I move too fast. About another month and I’ll be past it.’
‘Gosh, seeing you go through all this makes me wonder if I have the gumption to have a baby.’
Jenni clutched Celia’s arm, heedless of the soap suds pressing through Celia’s blouse. ‘Don’t think like that. It’s worth it all, every little thing you go through. It’s worth it when you hold your baby for the first time.’
Celia studied her and then smiled. ‘You really amaze me sometimes.’
‘I’m sure I’ve amazed a lot of people over the years,’ Jenni muttered.
‘No, silly,’ Celia laughed. ‘You’re so strong. I know you’ll get through this.’
Jenni said thank you but only because it was the polite thing to do. Usually, she’d agree with Celia, say yes, she’d get through it because she was tough. Growing up on the farm had made her tough. Fending for herself against three brothers had made her tough. Living with short-tempered Danny had made her tough. But this… this was different. And because she didn’t want to talk about it, even to her best friend, she changed the subject.
‘I still can’t believe you got permission from the board to have Tallulah’s diary translated. After they took the vote at the meeting, I about fell over.’
Celia breezed easily into this new conversation. After all, she was the one who’d found the diary underneath the floorboards of the museum’s upstairs bedroom.
‘My little strategy had something to do with it,’ Celia said. ‘I let Avery Boon write a story on it before I even told the board so it was already out in public. Evan Lowe and his cronies had to agree or face a public relations crisis.’
Jenni folded her arms and leaned against the kitchen counter. ‘I don’t know. Something’s not right about it all. I still don’t understand why the board has gone to such lengths to keep Dietrich out of the museum. He was Tallulah’s son, for goodness sake!’
‘I know. I’m sure Tallulah probably mentions him in her diary. How could she not? Maybe they just want to forget about the way he died? So awful.’
‘And you know how this town is about that night.’ Jenni mimicked a zipper being shut across her mouth. ‘Zip yer lip or else!’
‘I know all too well.’ She grinned. ‘I think I might get one of those posters that says “Loose lips sink ships!” and hang it in the foyer.’
‘That’d be a riot! But I doubt they’d get the irony.’
The two spent a few moments laughing, and Jenni revelled in this simple pleasure. How fortunate she was to have such a good friend in Celia.
‘Oh!’ Celia said. ‘I almost forgot to tell you.’ She flung the towel over her shoulder and beamed like a schoolgirl. ‘I already found someone to translate the diary.’
‘You’re kidding. That fast?’
‘Yep. It’s almost fortuitous, in a way.’
‘He’s a German refugee named Max Koenig. He escaped Germany before the war and he speaks fluent English. He also did translating work when he was a history professor at Berlin University. He’s currently on sabbatical from UNL, so it’s perfect timing.’
‘Impressive. When will he be here?’
‘In a few days. Avery Boon’s going to write an article about it for tomorrow’s paper and I also contacted the Omaha World-Herald and the Lincoln Star. Mrs Stanwick’s previous editor is putting something about it in the New York Times.’
‘My goodness. That will certainly bring more people to the museum.’ Jenni paused. ‘I’m just worried about how everyone will react to a real German coming here…’
Celia giggled. ‘A real German? As opposed to what… an ersatz German?’
Jenni stuck out her tongue. ‘You know what I mean, goofball. Heck, it would be the same if it was someone from Japan or Italy. Even Russia.’
‘Don’t forget Brooklyn,’ Celia said. ‘You would have thought I was from outer space the way they carried on.’
‘Precisely my point. If they treated you that way when you came here, a full-blooded American, what are they going to do to someone who came from a country our boys are fighting?’
‘He isn’t a Nazi.’
‘They won’t make the distinction.’
‘Maybe not.’ Celia put the coffee mugs in the cupboard. ‘But I don’t think we’ll have any problems.’
‘You forget, I’ve lived here my entire life. I know how this town works.’
‘Everything will be just swell.’ Celia firmly closed the glass-front door. ‘I refuse to believe otherwise.’
God love her for her optimism, but Jenni knew better. ‘I wish I shared your confidence, sister. But I don’t think anybody is going to be happy about this.’
‘They’ll get over it.’
Something in Celia’s voice made Jenni frown. ‘What is it? What’s wrong?’
‘Nothing is wrong, exactly,’ Celia replied, though she evaded Jenni’s gaze. ‘But I did want to tell you that he is staying in the guest cottage.’
‘Well, why shouldn’t he?’
‘That doesn’t bother you? Him being a German, and all? And, well… the other thing.’
Jenni’s lips set in a grim line. The ‘other thing’ was the one and only night she’d visited Rafe in that guest cottage.
‘No, not at all. He was against Hitler and that’s good enough for me. As far as Rafe… I wish I’d never met that jerk,’ she muttered. ‘He sent me a cheque, you know. Wanted me to get rid of the baby.’
Celia gasped. ‘He didn’t.’
‘I tore it up and mailed it back to him. Maybe he’ll get the hint.’
‘He’d better. You don’t need that kind of help.’
Celia opened her mouth to say more, then snapped it shut, and Jenni folded her arms. ‘Better spill it. Something’s on your mind.’
Pink tinted Celia’s cheeks. ‘Sorry. I just don’t quite know how to say it.’ She took a deep breath, letting it whistle through her teeth. ‘All right. But feel free to tell me off if you want to.’
‘I’ll let you know.’
Celia laughed at that. ‘I can always count on you to be frank. So here it is: Professor Koenig is going to need a secretary of sorts to help him. He’ll translate the diary, but he needs someone to type it up and maybe fill him in on Tallulah’s history. Do you think you could do that?’
Jenni shrugged. ‘I don’t see why not, but how can I be in two places at once? I have to give tours too.’
‘Not necessarily. Look, I know you haven’t been feeling well and I thought this would give you a chance to rest more instead of being on your feet all the time.’
Suspicion made Jenni clench her jaw. ‘And I’d also be out of the public eye then, right? So no one would see my little weight gain?’
The cake pan Celia held came down on the counter with a bang. ‘Absolutely not. You know I don’t give two figs for what people think. I’m hurt you’d even consider it.’
When will I learn to keep my stupid tongue still?
‘Oh, fiddlesticks,’ Jenni murmured. ‘I’m sorry. Really I am. I shouldn’t have said it.’
‘It’s all right.’ Celia pulled her into a quick hug. ‘Let’s forget about it, okay? And if you don’t want to be Professor Koenig’s secretary, you don’t have to. I just thought you might enjoy it. You’ll get to read Tallulah’s diary before I do, at any rate, and you can also fill him in on the town’s history. Being a historian, he will probably find it fascinating.’
‘Or just plain scary.’
It might be a nice change of pace, Jenni considered. And resting more sure wouldn’t hurt. But stepping foot inside that cottage again… She shuddered. She’d had dreams about it, about that fateful night when she’d ignored common sense and let a devilishly handsome man kiss her, touch her like she hadn’t been touched in so long…
Stop. Don’t go there.
‘Of course I’ll do it,’ she said to Celia, forcing her lips into a smile. ‘I think I can handle a stuffy old history professor.’
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...